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Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor

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Francis I
Portrait by Martin van Meytens, c. 1745
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign13 September 1745 – 18 August 1765
Coronation4 October 1745
Frankfurt Cathedral
PredecessorCharles VII
SuccessorJoseph II
Grand Duke of Tuscany
Reign12 July 1737 – 18 August 1765
PredecessorGian Gastone
SuccessorLeopold I
Duke of Lorraine and Bar
Reign27 March 1729 – 9 July 1737
Born(1708-12-08)8 December 1708
Lunéville, Duchy of Lorraine, Holy Roman Empire
Died18 August 1765(1765-08-18) (aged 56)
Hofburg, Innsbruck, County of Tyrol, Holy Roman Empire
(m. 1736)
Francis Stephen
FatherLeopold, Duke of Lorraine
MotherÉlisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans
SignatureFrancis I's signature

Francis I (Francis Stephen; French: François Étienne; German: Franz Stefan; Italian: Francesco Stefano; 8 December 1708 – 18 August 1765)[1] was Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Lorraine and Bar, and Grand Duke of Tuscany. He became the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Austria, and Tuscany through his marriage to Maria Theresa, daughter of Emperor Charles VI. Francis was the last non-Habsburg monarch of the Empire. The couple were the founders of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, and their marriage produced sixteen children.

Francis was the oldest surviving son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, and the French princess Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans. Duke Leopold died in 1729, and was succeeded by his son. In 1736, Francis married Maria Theresa. In 1738, he left the Duchy of Lorraine and Bar for the deposed Polish king Stanisław Leszczyński in exchange for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as one of the terms ending the War of the Polish Succession. Following the death of his father-in-law, Charles VI, in 1740, Francis and his wife became the rulers of the Habsburg domains. Maria Theresa gave her husband responsibility for the empire's financial affairs, which he handled well. Francis died in 1765 and was succeeded by his son, Joseph II, who co-ruled Austria alongside Maria Theresa.

Early life[edit]

Francis was born in Lunéville, Lorraine (now in France), the fourth and oldest surviving son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, and his wife Princess Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans. He was connected with the Habsburgs through his grandmother Eleonore, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III.[2] He was very close to his brother Charles and sister Anne Charlotte.

Emperor Charles VI favoured the family, who, besides being his cousins, had served the house of Habsburg with distinction. He had designed to marry his daughter Maria Theresa to Francis' older brother Leopold Clement. On Leopold Clement's death, Charles adopted the younger brother as his future son-in-law. Francis was brought up in Vienna with Maria Theresa with the understanding that they were to be married, and a real affection arose between them.[2]

At the age of 15, when he was brought to Vienna, he was established in the Silesian Duchy of Teschen, which had been mediatised and granted to his father by the emperor in 1722. Francis succeeded his father as Duke of Lorraine in 1729.[2] In 1731 he was initiated into freemasonry (Grand Lodge of England) by John Theophilus Desaguliers at a specially convened lodge in The Hague at the house of the British Ambassador, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.[3] During a subsequent visit to England, Francis was made a Master Mason at another specially convened lodge at Houghton Hall, the Norfolk estate of British Prime Minister Robert Walpole.[4]

Francis at the age of 15 in his hunting attire

Maria Theresa arranged for Francis to become "Lord Lieutenant" (locumtenens) of Hungary in 1732. He was not excited about this position, but Maria Theresa wanted him closer to her. In June 1732 he agreed to go to the Hungarian capital, Pressburg (today's Bratislava).

When the War of the Polish Succession broke out in 1733, France used it as an opportunity to seize Lorraine, since France's prime minister, Cardinal Fleury, was concerned that, as a Habsburg possession, it would bring Austrian power too close to France.

A preliminary peace was concluded in October 1735 and ratified in the Treaty of Vienna in November 1738. Under its terms, Stanisław I, the father-in-law of King Louis XV and the losing claimant to the Polish throne, received Lorraine, while Francis, in compensation for his loss, was made heir to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which he would inherit in 1737.

Although fighting stopped after the preliminary peace, the final peace settlement had to wait until the death of the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone de' Medici in 1737, to allow the territorial exchanges provided for by the peace settlement to go into effect.

In March 1736 the Emperor persuaded Francis, his future son-in-law, to secretly exchange Lorraine for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. France had demanded that Maria Theresa's fiancé surrender his ancestral Duchy of Lorraine to accommodate the deposed King of Poland. The Emperor considered other possibilities (such as marrying her to the future Charles III of Spain) before announcing the engagement of the couple. If something were to go wrong, Francis would become governor of the Austrian Netherlands.

Elisabeth of Parma had also wanted the Grand Duchy of Tuscany for her son Charles III of Spain; Gian Gastone de' Medici was childless and was related to Elisabeth via her great-grandmother Margherita de' Medici. As a result, Elisabeth's sons could claim by right of being a descendant of Margherita.

On 31 January 1736 Francis agreed to marry Maria Theresa. He hesitated three times (and laid down the feather before signing). Especially his mother Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans and his brother Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine were against the loss of Lorraine. On 1 February, Maria Theresa sent Francis a letter: she would withdraw from her future reign, when a male successor for her father appeared.


Francis I and his family (by Martin van Meytens)

Francis and Maria Theresa married on 12 February 1736 in the Augustinian Church, Vienna. The wedding was held on 14 February 1736. The (secret) treaty between the Emperor and Francis was signed on 4 May 1736. On 5 January 1737, instruments of cession were signed at Pontremoli between Spain and the Empire, with Spain ceding Parma, Piacenza and Tuscany to the Holy Roman Empire and the Empire recognizing Don Carlos of Spain as King of Naples and Sicily.[5] On 10 January, the Spanish troops began their withdrawal from Tuscany, and were replaced by 6,000 Austrians.[6] On 24 January 1737 Francis received Tuscany from his father-in-law.[7] Until then, Maria Theresa was Duchess of Lorraine.

Gian Gastone de' Medici, who died on 9 July 1737, was the second cousin of Francis (Gian Gastone and Francis' father Leopold were both great-grandchildren of Francis II, Duke of Lorraine), who also had Medici blood through his maternal great-great-grandmother Marie de' Medici, Queen consort of France and Navarre. In June 1737 Francis went to Hungary again to fight against the Turks. In October 1738 he was back in Vienna. On 17 December 1738 the couple travelled south, accompanied by his brother Charles to visit Florence for three months. They arrived on 20 January 1739.

In 1744 Francis' brother Charles married a younger sister of Maria Theresa, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria. In 1744 Charles became governor of the Austrian Netherlands, a post he held until his death in 1780.


Coat of arms of Francis I

In the Treaty of Füssen, Maria Theresa secured his election as Emperor, which took place on 13 September 1745. He succeeded Charles VII, and she made him co-regent of her hereditary dominions.[2]

Francis was well content to leave the wielding of power to his able wife. He had a natural fund of good sense and brilliant business capacity and was a useful assistant to Maria Theresa in the laborious task of governing the complicated Austrian dominions, but he was not active in politics or diplomacy.[2] However, his wife left him in charge of the financial affairs, which he managed well until his death.[8] Heavily indebted and on the verge of bankruptcy at the end of the Seven Years' War, the Austrian Empire was in a better financial condition than France or Great Britain in the 1780s. He also took a great interest in the natural sciences.

Francis was a serial adulterer; many of his affairs well-known and indiscreet, notably one with Princess Maria Wilhelmina of Auersperg, who was thirty years his junior. This particular affair was remarked upon in the letters and journals of visitors to the court and in those of his children.[9]

He died suddenly in his carriage while returning from the opera at Innsbruck on 18 August 1765.[2] He is buried in tomb number 55 in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

Maria Theresa and Francis I had sixteen children, amongst them the last pre-revolutionary queen consort of France, their youngest daughter, Marie Antoinette (1755–1793). Francis was succeeded as Emperor by his eldest son, Joseph II, and as Grand Duke of Tuscany by his younger son, Peter Leopold (later Emperor Leopold II). Maria Theresa retained the government of her dominions until her own death in 1780.


No. Name Birth Death Notes
1 Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria 5 February 1737 7 June 1740 died in childhood, no issue.
2 Archduchess Maria Anna 6 October 1738 19 November 1789 died unmarried, no issue.
3 Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria 12 January 1740 25 January 1741 died in childhood likely from smallpox, no issue.
4 Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II 13 March 1741 20 February 1790 married 1) Princess Isabella Maria of Parma (1741–1763), married 2) Princess Marie Josephe of Bavaria (1739–1767) – second cousin, had issue from his first marriage (two daughters, who died young).
5 Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria 13 May 1742 24 June 1798 married Prince Albert of Saxony, Duke of Teschen (1738–1822), her second cousin, had issue (one stillborn daughter).
6 Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria 13 August 1743 22 September 1808 died unmarried, no issue.
7 Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria 1 February 1745 18 January 1761 died of smallpox, no issue.
8 Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria 26 February 1746 9 June 1804 married Ferdinand, Duke of Parma (1751–1802), had issue.
9 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II 5 May 1747 1 March 1792 married Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain (1745–1792), had issue. Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 (abdicated 1790), Holy Roman Emperor from 1790, Archduke of Austria, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia from 1790.
10 Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria 17 September 1748 17 September 1748 died during birth.
11 Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela of Austria 4 February 1750 23 December 1762 died of smallpox, no issue.
12 Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria 19 March 1751 15 October 1767 died of smallpox, no issue.
13 Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria 13 August 1752 7 September 1814 married King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily (1751–1825); had issue.
14 Archduke Ferdinand of Austria 1 June 1754 24 December 1806 married Maria Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Massa, heiress of Breisgau and of Modena, had issue (Austria-Este). Duke of Breisgau from 1803.
15 Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria 2 November 1755 16 October 1793 married Louis XVI of France and Navarre (1754–1793) and became Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre; had issue (two sons and two daughters).
16 Archduke Maximilian Franz of Austria 8 December 1756 27 July 1801 Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, 1784.
Silver coin: 10 paoli Grand Duchy of Tuscany - Francis, 1747
Silver coin: 1 conventionsthaler Augsburg Free City - Francis I, 1765


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Austria: Franz I
  2. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Audrey Carpenter, John Theophilus Desaguliers: A Natural Philosopher, Engineer and Freemason in Newtonian England, (London : Continuum, 2011), ISBN 978-1-4411-2778-5, p. 47
  4. ^ Malcolm Davies, The masonic muse : songs, music, and musicians associated with Dutch freemasonry, 1730–1806. (Utrecht : Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, 1995), ISBN 90-6375-199-0, pp. 22–23
  5. ^ Hargreaves-Mawdsley, W. N., Eighteenth-Century Spain 1700–1788: A Political, Diplomatic and Institutional History. Palgrave Macmillan UK. London, 1979. ISBN 978-1-349-01805-5
  6. ^ Hale, Florence and the Medici, Orion books, p 192. London, 1977, ISBN 1-84212-456-0.
  7. ^ Maria Theresia und ihre Zeit. Exhibition from 13 May till October 1980 in Vienna, Schloss Schönbrunn, p. 28, see also pp. 37, 38, 41, 47, 52, 53 for the other details described here.
  8. ^ Jean-Paul Bled, Maria-Theresa
  9. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p. 89. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0-7394-2025-9.
  10. ^ Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 81.

External links[edit]

Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 8 December 1708 Died: 18 August 1765
Regnal titles
Preceded by Grand Duke of Tuscany
Succeeded by
Preceded by Duke of Lorraine
Succeeded by
Duke of Teschen
Succeeded by
Preceded by King in Germany
Holy Roman Emperor
Preceded byas sole ruler Archduke of Austria
Ruler of the Austrian Netherlands

21 November 1740–1765
with Maria Theresa
Succeeded byas sole ruler